God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Sunday, July 26, 2015

July 26 -- Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Well, how did you proclaim the love that Christ Jesus this past week?  How were you one of Christ’s disciples -- in your workplace, in your retirement, at home, or on the road?  How did you share Christ’s love -- for you, for us, for this whole world -- since last Sunday?  We are God’s agents.

Take a second:  write it down or just think quietly to yourself, how did you share Christ’s love this past week?  

I have to tell you, and I don’t tell you enough, but...I look at you, and I see Christ!  I’m not saying you’re my Lord and Savior.  But you, sisters and brothers, carry Christ in your faces, in your bodies, in your eyes, in your hands and feet.

Don’t ever, ever forget that.  We are filled to the brim with God.  We are made in God’s image, sustained with Christ’s forgiveness, and breathed into by the Holy Spirit -- you are and you have been the face of Christ for this world, this past week!

Through your kindness, generosity, forgiveness, peace -- you share Christ with everyone and everything you encounter!  
Another way of saying that is in our letter from Ephesians today:  “Christ dwells in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” 

The early Christians in Ephesus needed to hear that...because they had no external signs of the Christian Church.  Unlike today they had no evidence there was a church -- no steeples, no Gothic seminaries, no Christian art, no billboards or publishing houses...The Roman Empire was the subject of all the external signs.  

The Empire had its great cathedrals build to the gods.  They had mighty war ships in their harbors, imperial guards on every corner, they had statues to gods and humans that were nearly gods -- athletes, scholars, senators.  Caesar was called the “Son of God”.  Then -- you have to understand -- there were no external signs of Christ’s church.  

And many of the great Christian leaders were gone.  The church existed then with no external signs.  In other words, the church had to exist in their hearts and in their tiny, underground communities.  For them to receive a letter as encouraging and as prayerful and as joyful as this...was like the sun rising after a cold, dark night.  

“Be strengthened in your inner being, with power through God’s spirit, that Christ may dwell [not in temples and stadiums or even churches, no, that Christ may dwell] in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”  As one scholar commented, “When this is accomplished -- when Christ dwells in our hearts through faith as we are being rooted and grounded in love -- we have the whole Christian life.” (NIB, 417)
Maybe you didn’t have enough time earlier when I asked you to consider the ways you shared the love of Christ this past week.  Praise God!  And keep it up -- with humility and joy.  This passage is continued encouragement, a reminder of where you get that strength to share.

But maybe you felt a little unprepared to respond to that question?  “Me?  Share the Good News, proclaim the love and forgiveness of Christ?  Isn’t that, like, the pastor’s job?  Or some church professional’s job?... “I’m the one that needs to hear it!  I’ve got nothing to share: it’s been a crappy week!  I feel pretty empty.”  

Or, “if I did anything good -- if I shared any kind of good with my life this week, it was just common sense, it’s what we do, right?  Nothing special, nothing holy.”  

I want to, Ephesians wants to, nip that in the bud...and name God’s creative and redeeming work into all we say and do.  This life we share, is deeply infused with the love of the Divine, with Christ’s real presence!  

We at church are about the work of naming God's ongoing creative and redeeming work in the everyday lives of people and the earth itself.  A mother picking up her child from school:  we name God in that.  A freshly picked crate of strawberries: we name God in that.  A beer after work among construction workers: name God in that!  The embrace of a child...  The loss of a pet -- it’s not just in the good, sweet stuff -- we name God in all things because God is present and loving in all.  The list is as diverse as it is endless.     
We’re about to sing “Thine the Amen”.  This is a sort of “stream of consciousness” lyrical style, written by Herb Brokering in the 1980’s.  I know some of you have met Herb Brokering.  He died in 2009 back in Minnesota at age 83.  

From the Lutheran radio program  Grace Matters:  

The Rev. Dr. Herbert Brokering has been called the “Leonardo DaVinci of the Prairies.” Gifted with extraordinary creativity, the Lutheran pastor, author, lyricist, hymn writer and peace activist has spent his life finding new ways to minister to the holistic health of all God’s people. ...

In a reflection of his favorite biblical image, “In him all things hold together,” Dr. Brokering has devoted his life to strengthening connections between people and God, and between God’s people, person to person and country to country. 

My two favorite verses: 

2. Thine the life
        Thine the promise
            let there be
Thine the vision
    Thine the tree
        all the earth
            on bended knee
Gone the nailing
    gone the railing
        gone the pleading
            gone the cry
Gone the sighing
    gone the dying
        what was loss
            lifted high.

3. Thine the truly
    Thine the yes
        Thine the table
            we the guest
Thine the mercy
    all from Thee
        Thine the glory
            yet to be
Then the ringing
    and the singing
        then the end
            of all the war
Thine the living
    Thine the loving

I wanted to share that with you before we sing it, because from what I can gather, Brokering embodied this deep and joyous praise of God through all of life and even in death.  And wrapped up in our praise of God is a recognition that Christ dwells with us, in all that we do.  As Colossians puts it, and as Brokering loved to repeat, “In Christ all things hold together.”  

You are held together by Christ, and you share that “held-togetherness” in all your words and actions.  Thank you.

And may Christ continue to dwell deeply in your hearts through faith, as you continue to be rooted and grounded in love.  AMEN.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Autopsy of a Deceased Church

Dear friends in Christ, 

I accidentally read a book today.  Wasn't my plan when I woke up; it just happened.

Then I decided to outline the whole thing, and I want to share it with you...

It's called Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer, and I couldn't put it down.  

Please understand: I don't think we're dying at all.  Quite the opposite really.  In many ways this book was a great affirmation of SVLC's health and ministry now, and through many of our years. 

Still, it doesn't hurt to consider these autopsies and ideas, as we prepare to vote on moving forward with our building plans this coming Sunday.  

I know that you're excited and prayerful and perhaps a little nervous about what lies ahead for Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.  I am too.  But I know that God goes with us, no matter what.

Please read through this brief outline.  Let it be part of your excitement and prayer as you prepare for this big vote.  This book is a tremendous tool!  Autopsies are a gift to the living.

Grace and peace, truly. 
Pastor Dan

Inline image 1


Autopsy of a Deceased Church
by Thom S. Rainer

Former pastor and researcher Thom S. Rainer studied 14 deceased congregations across the country, identifying some striking and evocative commonalities...

Part 1: The Autopsy

  • The past is hero.
    1. Death by nostalgia.
    2. Note: the Biblical heroes (Abraham, Sarah, Ruth, Deborah, Moses, Paul, etc.) all ventured out, resisting the urge to cling to the familiar and the safe.
“...these dying churches focused on their own needs instead of others.  They looked inwardly instead of outwardly.  Their highest priorities were the way they’ve always done it, and that which made them the most comfortable.” (22)

  • The church refused to look like the community.
    1. The church became a fortress
    2. Others first = life.  Me first = death.
“If you talk to the members in a dying church, most will deny that their church is a fortress.  But in our autopsy, we found that is exactly what was taking place.  People in the community did not feel welcome in the church.  Those in the church were more concerned about protecting the way they did church than reaching residents of the community.” (27)

  • The budget moved inwardly.
    1. Where the money of the church goes, so goes its heart. 
    2. Where are the cuts made?
“In all the churches we autopsied, a financial pattern developed over time.  The pattern was one where funds were used more to keep the machinery of the church moving, and to keep members happy, than funding the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.” (36)

  • The Great Commission becomes the Great Omission
    1. Great Commission Amnesia -- “Go therefore...make disciples, baptize, teach” was forgotten. Or the congregation may even have consciously decided (not just forgot) to leave the Great Commission behind.
    2. Often dying churches are longing to replicate the “good old days”.  And it was not unusual for them to blame others in their plight.

“Members of dying churches weren’t willing to go into the community to reach and minister to people...they weren’t willing to invite...they weren’t willing to expend the funds necessary for a vibrant outreach.” (44)

  • The Preference-driven Church (for example: “traditional” vs. “contemporary”)
“There were not many indications in the autopsied churches that most members had such a self-sacrificial attitude.  Instead the attitude was self-serving, self-giving, and self-entitled.  It was about me, myself, and I.  Death was inevitable.  The lifeblood of a healthy church is one that is more like the mind of Christ in the members’ attitudes.  Sadly the dying churches rarely had members who were so other-centered.” (50)

  • Pastoral tenure decreases (pastors coming and going every 2-3 years)
    1. Out of the 14 deceased churches in this study, 10 of them had shorter pastoral tenures (2-3 years).
“When these pastors initiated or suggested change, there was fierce resistance.  They really didn’t see much hope based upon the patterns and the history of the church, so they left.” (60)

           B. Exceptions: The other 4 deceased churches had long-time pastors (11 years +).     But there, the pastors made the decision to adopt the attitude of recalcitrant members: no attempt to lead toward change, have outward focus, or be more like the community in which the church was located.

“...for these pastors, decline and death of the church was preferable to conflict.  They became caretakers of members only.  They sided with the members at any hint of change.”

  • The church rarely prayed together.
    1. This might seem absurd at first.  Of course churches pray together -- every Sunday!  But when the prayer life of a congregation becomes empty or hurriedly printed off the internet, something is lost.
    2. Contrast a dying church with Acts 2:42 -- “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers.”  “Prayer was not an add-on to give them permission to eat a meal...Prayer was the lifeblood of the early church.” (67)
[former member of a deceased church]: “That was the beginning of the decline that led to our death.  We stopped taking prayer seriously.” (68)

  • The church had no clear purpose.
“The members at Philippi knew what they were supposed to do.  They were to live out the gospel.  They were to proclaim the gospel.  They were to partner with Paul in the gospel.  Their purpose was totally and completely gospel-centered.” (75)

“‘We were playing a game called church.’...None of the members asked what they should be doing; they were too busy doing what they’ve always done.” (74)

  • The church obsessed over facilities.
    1. Church fights have erupted over stained glass windows, pews, draperies, paint color, carpet color, and on and on and on.  
    2. “Dying churches...experience severe battles over facility obsession before their demise.” (80)
“Being a good steward of those material things that God has given our churches is good.  Becoming obsessed with any one item to the neglect of God’s mission is idolotry.” (80)

Part 2:  Hope for the dying church: 12 responses

  • My church has symptoms of sickness:
  1. Pray that God will open the eyes of the leadership and members for opportunities to reach into the community where the church is located.
  2. Take an honest audit of how church members spend their time being involved.
  3. Take an audit of how the church spends its money.
  4. Make specific plans to minister to your community.
  • My church is very sick:
  1. The church must admit and confess its dire need.
  2. The church must pray for wisdom and strength to do whatever is necessary.  
  3. The church must be willing to change radically.
  4. That change must lead to action and an outward focus.
  • My church is dying:
  1. Sell the property and give the funds to another church, perhaps a new church that has begun or will soon begin.
  2. Give the building to another church.
  3. If your church is in a transitional neighborhood, turn over the leadership and property to those who actually reside in the neighborhood.
  4. Merge with another church, but let the other church have the ownership and leadership of your church.

“All of these are painful, because all of the options are truly sacrificial.  What you are doing is allowing your church to die, so that another may live.” (101)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 19 -- Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

College.  I loved college.  I worked hard, studied all the time.  But I had so much fun too.  I went to California Lutheran University, and I lived my first year in Pederson Hall, named after the Norwegian farmer who gifted all those acres in 1957 for the establishment of a new Lutheran college.  It was in Pederson Hall my freshman year, that I noticed a senior, named Heather Embree.  She was my R.A. (resident advisor).  We were just friends that year, but we were around each other a lot, both heavily involved with the campus ministry program there at Cal Lutheran, and back at our residence hall.  And one time, in early spring of that first year, Heather and I were talking about how “cliquey” our residence hall had become.  There was “this” group and “this” group and “this” group.  And then there’s always some who feel left out...

What could we do to “break down the walls”?  We wondered together.  Heather had some R.A. programming funds at her disposal, and so we decided to organize...a camping trip.  After all...most great disputes are solved by camping -- Got a problem at home?  Go camping.  Got a problem at work?  Go camping.  We perceived a problem with our residence hall...

(What if our legislators all just went on a big camping trip together.  Congregations do it all the time.  Youth groups like ours.  Army, marines, special forces: they go camping together all the time, and I defy anyone to try to break the bond that they share, even decades later.)  That’s because camping brings people together!  That’s what we believed anyway.

So Heather and I actually billed this the Great Pederson Hall “Breakin’ Down the Walls” Camping Trip.  Heather booked 2 campsites, and she and I got to promoting, passing out flyers.  This was before the days of cell phones, and email was very new and clunky...Word of mouth, personal invites, a little friendly coercion especially with our painfully shy, sweet friends: “Nope. You’re going.”  

And before you knew it, we had quite a crowd headed out over the Santa Monica Mountains to Big Sycamore Canyon State Park, nestled into that canyon right across the Pacific Coast Highway from the the ocean.  Beautiful night...beautiful location...  

Breakin' down the walls!
...and an incredible event, that actually turned into quite a party.  Word got out and even more came than we expected.  I saw people mixing that night that you wouldn’t have ever imagined.  The geeks with the baseball players.  The campus ministry goody-two shoes, with the racy theatre crowd.  The druggies with the Young Republicans:  playing guitars, all gathered around the same camp fire.  It was a blast!  And I remember Heather and I high-fiving each other several times in-passing during that evening. “Breakin’ down the walls!” we celebrated joyfully.

It was such a good event, actually, that it got us in trouble with the park rangers.  Actually it got Heather in trouble.  My future wife, who had never done a bad thing in her life -- but because her name was on the reservation -- Heather Embree got black-balled from the the whole Pacific coastline network of campgrounds for 1 year!  

Totally worth it!  (We were pretty proud of ourselves -- breakin’ down the walls.  But it was just a glimpse.)

This second chapter of Ephesians is about breakin’ down the walls.  The walls that divide us.  The big issue then was not jock vs. scholar.  (The jocks were scholars.)  It was Jew vs. Gentile.  And the special marking that set the Jews apart was circumcision.  That was the physical mark on the Jewish men.

It reminds me of one of my favorite poems, by one of our favorite artists:
“Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches Had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches Had none upon thars.  Those stars weren't so big. They were really so small You might think such a thing wouldn't matter at all.  But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches Would brag, "We're the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches." With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they'd snort “We'll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!" 
And whenever they met some, when they were out walking, They'd hike right on past them without even talking.”  (The Sneeches, Dr. Seuss)
How are we like the Star-belly Sneeches or like those freshmen in Pederson Hall?  Has anything changed?  How do we set ourselves not just apart from but better than others?  [pause]  Either way we are far apart, when we do this.

Racism still plagues our nation.  My race is better that “those other people”.  I read this week in Time that Gen X (my generation) is just as racist as previous generations, and it’s not clear that the generations behind us are much better.  We might be reverting because we’re so far off from one another.  Or classism -- my position in society is better -- higher or more noble or more hard-working.  “With [our] snoots in the air [we] sniff and we snort, ‘We’ll have nothing to do with that [other class] sort!’”  Sexism, hetero-sexism, immigration status?   The list goes on.  And “cliques” are a genteel way of putting it. 

So what’s God got to say about this?  

I don’t have high hopes of the divisions going away, all the walls between us crumbling.  This is not a “let’s all just hold hands and pretend we’re ok” sermon.  We’ve got a lot of work to do.  Relationship takes work.  Human brokenness and frankly, stupidity, remains.  But here’s what we do know as Christians, here’s what God’s got to say:  It’s not us, as much as we might try, it’s not us, but Christ, who ultimately breaks down the walls...

We are broken and lost and proud; but it is in God’s incarnation and God’s cross and God’s Pentecost that the boundary between heaven and earth is shattered forever, and God comes to be among us.  Christ breaks down the walls, not Heather and I, or you.  Ephesians says:
“[Christ Jesus] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death hostility.  So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near...In [Christ Jesus] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”   

(That deserves a high five!)  “Breakin’ down the walls!”  And now growing together.  What a vision for the church -- a place for those who were once far off, and a place for those who are near (those who have always been around).  Now we are all built together spiritually, into a dwelling place for God.  

Good to be reminded again that the church is not a building...as we talk so much about our building these days.  The church is not a building.

This building only houses the church -- us.  And this church is not for the like-minded.  This building -- which houses Christ’s church -- is to house the whole diversity of God’s creation.  Left-wing, right-wing and everything in between.  If a church is just like-minded people, then it’s not the church, it’s a club.  (Pastor Ron Baesler: “...and I say praise God.”)     

In Christ there is no Lutheran or Catholic, main line or evangelical, gay or straight, advanced degrees or jobless, American or Mexican, married or single, black or white, college graduate or high school drop-out.    

In Christ, we are brought camping (even you painfully, shy sweet Lutherans). “Nope, you’re going”.  This is our campground.  In Christ we are brought camping, where we all gather around the same fire:  the same bread and wine, the same holy water of baptism, the same Word of God, word of life.  Unity amid our diversity.  

And it is such a good event that it might even get us in trouble.

Totally worth it.  


Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Authorship of Ephesians

Ephesians, friends!  We're in a new book, and I want to pose an interesting question: 

While the book is attributed to Paul, did Paul himself write Ephesians?  

Many (not all) scholars in our church body suggest that he didn't!  Here's a short video of one of our ELCA profs from Luther Seminary discussing this. (Just click "Videos" in the right-hand column and then the "Authorship--Ephesians" video).  Fascinating! 

What do you think?  Does it matter if Paul himself wrote Ephesians or not?  To be honest, there was a time in my life that it really did matter to me.  Now I'm not so concerned about who wrote this.  (It was common then to write in your mentor/teacher's name as a way of honoring her/him.)  What are your thoughts? 

Feel free to explore more this great resource as a way of engaging or re-engaging the book of Ephesians.  There are plenty more issues here than just who wrote this...

But it's interesting and fun to consider.  An attention grabber?  

Anyway, let's stick together in our study.  Here's to continuing our journey through Scripture!  See you on Sunday!

Grace and peace,
Pastor Dan

Sunday, July 12, 2015

July 12 -- Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Grace to you and peace...

This is the first Sunday that we’ll be in the book of Ephesians...until the end of August.  We’ve been in Acts, in Romans and in II Corinthians since Easter.  It’s like we’re touring around the Mediterranean, and now we land in Ephesus, on the western tip of modern-day Turkey.  

Paul had founded a congregation there, and this letter was composed as a way of edifying and building up their community and their faith.

They were were a people who had been though difficult times.  People who had lost children, buried loved ones, been traumatized by war, and felt the lures of the culture all around them.  

Just to draw a little contrast to Corinth, which I talked about a couple weeks ago was a more wild town: Gamblers and sailors, brothels and bars -- a place where people passed through and consumed, often in destructive and reckless ways.  I think I described Corinth as a “Las Vegas by the sea”.

Ephesus was not without those omnipresent activities, but Ephesus was more of an artsy town, I’m gathering -- famous for its amphitheater, its schools and governmental seats.  Temples too.  I imagine Ephesus as more of a college town, Eugene, OR, Chapel Hill, NC, College Station, TX.  Cultural arts, technology, philosophy, science and theatre.
Which means, there were all kinds of ideas, all kinds of schools of thought.  

Paul’s not dealing as much with a congregation ripped apart by controversy (as in Corinthians).  In Ephesus, he’s dealing with building a congregation at all, as there are so many other interesting things going on there.

This is a caricature I’m drawing: Ephesus as a college town.  But I hope it’s helpful to cast Ephesus in a different light than Corinth, because I want to emphasize and reflect on the ministry of the Apostle Paul -- “being all things to all people”.

Paul and the apostles were so versatile.  And that’s important as a follower of Jesus.  He could mix in with the good ol‘ boys down in Texas and the Harvard Law students in Massachusetts, the farmers in the Midwest and the Marines in San Diego.  The actors on Broadway and the senior citizens in Seattle.    

He wasn’t a chameleon, unmoored and willing to drift and let the wind take him whatever culturally and religiously.  Ever known anyone who is unmoored and changing churches all the time, willing to go with whatever?  It’s good to search, and explore religions, and think for yourself.  But Paul was rooted and centered, despite all the exposure he had.  Paul was led out into the wo
rld by one thing -- Christ’s love.  Christ was at his center, and Christ was the reason Paul could be so versatile.  He never lost that center, no matter who he associated with.  [pause]

You can run and hide all you want...but your father will still be your father, your mother will still be your mother.  This letter to the Ephesians talks about, once again, being adopted.  We’ve heard this before in Romans.  Children of God we are chosen and adopted, taken home by God in Christ to grow-up, (I think of my friend that bring their newly adopted children home for the first time to grow up in their house).  We are taken home as children by God to grow up in God’s house, “according to the good pleasure of God’s will, to the praise of this glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

This was language that worked for the artists, scholars, travelers, seekers, philosophers of college-town Ephesus.

Maybe it’s language that works for you too.  

Paul is trying to get through, and connect to everyone, including you.  Not for his own sake, not for his own status or success, building churches in all these strange places like diplomas on his office wall.  No Paul did everything to God’s greater glory.  

What is the best way for them/you to understand and hear grace?  I wonder that all the time.  Do you know that you are truly forgiven?  Do you know that you are indeed blessed -- with earthly riches, but with heavenly grace?  Do you know that you’ve been adopted, because of Christ, to be God’s beloved child?

What’s the best way to get that message across?  Through a hand-written letter, a text, a tv show or movie, by a friend, a play on stage, by a quilt?  We’re all different, and receive messages in different ways.  

Paul got that, and was so committed and passionate about sharing this message God’s grace -- that he’d cross seas, brave storms, endure prisons and beatings, meet strange people all, stay in their homes, eat their food, hold their children, take those and so many other risks -- in order to get that message of God’s love and adoption to a people that needed to hear it.  
Academic communities, cultural centers are complex too, just like other communities -- lots of voices and pressures and lures in all kinds of directions.  

For Paul to stop those busy people and try to communicate in their accent:  you are chosen by God, to be a recipient of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, not because of what you do, not because you’ve earned it, but because God has chosen you for it.  For scholars and artists and writers and poets, whose minds and hands are racing all the time, who are caught up in the fury of competition and promotion, Paul’s message falls fresh on their ears, the poetry and prose of Paul’s flowing style here must have been like a cool glass of water or a refreshing swim on a dry, hot summer day.

That message is for us too.  In Christ Jesus, we have also obtained an inheritance.  In Christ Jesus, we live and move and have our being.  In Christ Jesus, we are forgiven.  

And having encountered that promise, we are led out now.  Christ is our light, Christ’s points the way, Christ calls us to share this good news with all kinds of people, in all kinds of places.  

And so we go, as Paul did, in Christ’s name to love and serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

July 5 -- Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Turn to the person next to you (even if you’ve known them forever):  "Hi, my name’s _____.  I am so much better than you."

BOASTING EXERCISE :) Repeat after me...

-I am the best! I am the best!  I’m so much better than you. ** [clap, clap] 
-My school is the best! My school is the best!  I’m so much better than you! **
-My car is the best! My car is the best! I’m so much better than you! **
-My city’s the best!  My city’s the best! I’m so much better than you! **
-My kids are the best!  My kids are the best! I’m so much better than you! **
-My country’s the best!  I’m so much better than you!
-My story’s the best!  My story’s the best!  I’m so much better than you! **
-My church is the best! My church is the best! I’m so much better than you! **
-My faith is the best!  My faith is the best!  I’m so much better than you! **

We can go on and on; I won’t make you. (But watch for this out there there week.  Maybe not so sing-songy, but...)

How was this exercise for you?  Was it familiar?  Is that the way you normally talk about yourself?  Or at least think about yourself?  [pause]  Or was this foreign and even troublesome for you?  How many didn’t participate in the exercise?  What’s funny about this exercise is that not participating might just be the best illustration:  “I’m above it.  My piety’s the best.  My seriousness is the best.  My humility’s the best...”

Paul’s concludes his letter to the Corinthians with this “deflating” word from God.  God doesn’t “pop” us, destroy us.  God deflates us, and that might just be the greatest gift of all.  That’s grace.  God deflates us with this word:  [slowly] “My grace is all you need to boast in.  Or maybe more appropriately: my grace is all you need to rest in, to rely on.”  

In this world of “keeping up with the Jones’”, God’s words seem so strange -- “What do you mean I don’t need to boast?  That’s how we do it in our culture/world/country!” -- and yet they bring us comfort.

God is making work, not of our boasting, not of our “puffed-up-ness” -- a great Greek-rooted word for this is “hypocrisy”, which means to pretend and act the part -- God is making work, not of our hypocrisy and our puffed-up boasting, but of our weakness, our deflated-ness:  “My grace is sufficient.  And my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Richard Rohr in Falling Upward:  “I have prayed for years for at least one good humiliation a day...” [pause]

As I was thinking about these questions and this exercise, which was fun -- this morning in the dark -- I bumped into the wall on my way though the dark from the bathroom to the closet.  “I’m so much better than you” [slam, bump].  

On a more serious note/illustration: Lutheran shooter.  I appreciated that our church body isn’t being smeared in the news (they could easily have a hay day with that).  But we know it, and St. Paul (St. Deflated-ness) Lutheran Church, where Dylan Roof was confirmed -- they know it.  One good humiliation a day...

God uses us in our sorrow and our brokenness -- even while God doesn’t intend us or will us to sorrow and brokenness -- God uses us in our deflated states.  In our mourning and in our confession, God binds us together, God turns us into instruments of peace and hope, even in the face of the most unspeakable violence.  [pause]

Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.  Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord.  Deflate thyself.  Better yet let God deflate us.  And then let God use us for peace, for good, for life, for hope.

Come back to earth.  Join with others.  Be OK with your weakness, your shortcomings, your doubts, your struggles.  God uses what little we have, and works it for good.  Paul invites us to be honest and come face to face with our weaknesses, for when we are weak, we are strongest in Christ.    

We follow a leader who deflated himself, who embodied the exact opposite of “puff-up-ness” -- who emptied himself on the cross.  Who comes back to earth time and again, in many and various ways to join with others and join us to himself in bread and wine, water, word and witness.  We have the audacity and the faith to follow that One, who in weakness became strong.  Who in death, won new life, for us all.    

In our weakness, we become strong, because in our weakness, we lose our selves and must rest in God.  In our weakness, we need each other.  In our weakness, we connect.

I love that illustration of the huge power outages we had here in San Diego a few years ago...and how we all ended up (at least in my neighborhood) just coming outside and sitting together in front of our homes for the evening.  Block party. 
What a great deflating that was.  

And then the lights came back on, and we puffed ourselves up and plugged ourselves back in...and went back inside to stand alone, like isolated, helium balloons.

The apostle Paul knew that the church can’t be the church in the world without God’s people showing up, unplugging, deflating, and coming outside.  Then God’s got something to work with!  Mother Therese:  God can’t fill what’s already filled.  That’s why St. Francis was so adamant about giving everything away. [pause]

We can boast, but we boast only in Christ’s emptying himself.  God’s grace is sufficient.  And in that weakness, there is strength to hold us, love to nurture us, breath to fill us, hope to carry us, and peace to guide us.  In that grace of God is the forgiveness of our sin, the deflating of our illusions, the dropping of our masks, and the shedding of our self-centered boasting and pride.  

In Christ, we are safely...grounded.  In Christ we are rooted in love.  In Christ, we have the slate wiped clean.  In Christ we are  joined to one another, and given new life, life in the Spirit, this day and every day.  

We got our self-serving boasting cleared out of here.  And we too will pray for “one good humiliation a day.”  So having been graciously deflated, what does this new life in Christ look like for you today?